Virginia Looks to Bring Back the Electric Chair for Death Row Inmates

On Wednesday, the Virginia legislature passed a bill making the electric chair a go-to method of execution for death row inmates.

Since 1995, electrocution has been employed in Virginia but only if requested by the sentenced prisoner. In that time frame, only six of the 85 inmates executed in Virginia have chosen electrocution over lethal injection. 

The new law allows electrocutions whenever lethal injection is not available.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, only six states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia – electrocute prisoners. The decision to bring back the electric chair in Virginia and other states is the consequence of two underlying factors.

First, in 2013, European pharmaceutical companies made the decision to stop selling the effective three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections because of the growing groundswell of opposition in Europe to the death penalty. 

Second, if states turn to other, less proven drug combinations, they are harangued by defense attorneys and lawsuits, which discourages them from moving forward with the effort.

Some states are being creative and coming up with other methods. Utah allows for prisoners to be executed by firing squad, and Missouri and Wyoming are considering it as well. "A lot of folks may picture the 1850s and everyone lining up to shoot, but the reality is that people suffer with every type of death," said Missouri State Representative Rick Brattin, a Republican. "This is no less humane than lethal injection."

This month, Ohio carried out a new protocol consisting of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller, in the execution of Dennis McGuire. Anti-death penalty advocates were outraged that it took fifteen minutes for him to die by the injection. McGuire was executed for the 1989 rape and murder of a 22-year old pregnant woman named Joy Stewart.

A reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, one of the witnesses at the execution, described Mr. McGuire as struggling, gasping loudly, snorting, and making choking noises for nearly ten minutes. An Associated Press report described him as snorting loudly and making snoring noises. These reports will add fuel to the upcoming fire of debate on execution and the correct means to it as time goes on.


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